AN ISLAND – Karen Jennings

A little more than a month before the Booker Prize 2022 longlist is announced, I finished the 2021 longlist.  As several of the selections weren’t published in the States until this year, it took some time, but I did it.  I ended with Karen Jennings’s An Island (Holland House Books 2020, Hogarth in the US 2022), a tiny little book with a sparse little story and a striking cover of the surf making a face on the sand with a person walking toward it.  It’s an allegorical post-colonialism novel set in an unnamed African country, but Jennings is no Gordimer or Coetzee or even Galgut – it didn’t work for me.

The novel, taking place over the course of four days, follows Samuel, a lighthouse keeper.  Samuel, imprisoned during the rebellion for over two decades, is now 70.  He is uncomfortable around people and likes the life of solitude he’s carved out on his island.  A body washes ashore, which isn’t unusual.  But what is unusual is that this body is still breathing.  The man is a refugee, and they don’t share a common language. As the hours stretch, Samuel, showing signs of paranoia and dementia, slips into a past in a country that had no place for him.

The sparse novel addresses  colonialism and its after impacts, the refugee crisis, xenophobia, PTSD, and political corruption in a man vs. himself dressed up like a man vs. man.  It’s a very quick read and very Bookery, it just didn’t work for me.

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